Tag Archives: Borneo

Discovering diversity: Along the coast to Kuching

January 2016


After our hiking adventures it was high time to get on the bicycles again!


After Bintulu we took a small ferry over the river and managed to get away from the main roads and cycle along the coast for a while.


It was calm and quiet and I loved the small roads. Eventually we turned inland again as we wanted to meet a warmshowers host in Sibu. We saw modern longhouses…


… and tried colourful desserts (ABC).


When it got dark we found a place to stay in Selangau and ate dinner outside. Soon a few guys came to our table and asked if we’re bicycle tourists. Erm, how do they know that? Our bicycles were locked up in our room and we were wearing normal clothes… Their answer was that we must be cycling through – otherwise why would two foreigners stay in that tiny town without any tourist attractions? I admired their combination skills and thought to myself that this is exactly why I like cycle touring. You get to be and stay in places where not too many travellers go. The normal places, the places in between attractions, the places where life is happening.


So we got to know the guys for a bit: They are all Malaysians, but live in Singapore and Melbourne. At that time they were on a fundraising tour for the Sarawak Children’s Cancer Hospital.


On the next day we made our way to Sibu.


It rained all morning and I loved it. It even felt a bit cold sometimes and I cherished that sensation as long as it lasted.


In Sibu we found John’s house easily and were welcomed by his family. It was their first time to host any foreigners so we were all a bit nervous. But we got along very well and over the following couple of days they introduced us to a truckload of new food!


I am still absolutely awestruck by all the new vegetables I got to know in Sibu. Some of them at John’s home – cooked and processed – and some of them at Sibu’s fresh market.


It has a jungle sections where people sell vegetables and more – harvested just a few hours ago from the jungle. It is seriously amazing!


I had thought that I already knew a lot of locally grown fruit and vegetables after a few months in Indonesia and Malaysia.


It turns out my knowledge wasn’t that big after all. There are so many different greens, so many fruits in all shapes, colours and sizes and often even John or his mum didn’t know the name for them.


There is an abundance of everything and for the first time I begin to understand what biological diversity really means.


We then took a walk around Sibu which was also very nice.

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An afternoon visit to John’s grandma in her village longhouse with a tasting of home made rice wine left us with even more impressions.



John told us that nowadays it’s mostly elderly people and kids who live there.



The young people usually look for work elsewhere.


When we said good bye, John’s grandma has tears in her eyes and I was reminded of my own family and the good byes after a visit to my grand parents. Some things are so similar, no matter if there is thousands of kilometers in between.

Thank you John and family for hosting us – we had an amazing time with you! I am so very thankful for all the new things we learned staying in and around Sibu. That’s what travelling is about!


From Sibu it wasn’t far to Kuching. We cycled along the coast, on small and quiet roads.


After meeting Alex, a friend of Simon (our host in Miri), he organised accommodation further down the road with a friend of his in Roban. So without a common language and only because we knew a friend of a friend, Mr. Ah Poo trusted us with one of his spare rooms for the night. These gifts that we get as we cycle along will never seize to amaze me.


On the next day it got even better. After a beautiful day of cycling we arrived in Maludam and looked for a place to sleep. Several homestays were on offer but too pricey for us. So we sat down in a cafe, had perfect coffee and steamed buns that reminded me of a German dish (Dampfnudeln 😉 ) my mum makes. We then asked the very friendly owner if he knew a cheaper place to stay for a night. He said he would ask his friend and came back a short while later only to invite us to his home! We gladly accepted and let the magic happen once more: Awang, Juria and their big family opened their house to us, gave us our own room and we had a lot of fun preparing and sharing dinner together.

There is a myriad of languages spoken in Malaysia, with Bahasa Melayu, English and Mandarin being the most widely used. On top of that there are a lot of local languages. On this journey we cannot ever learn all the languages we encounter properly but of course we try to learn at least a little. As Bahasa Malayu is similar to Bahasa Indonesia we could do some Smalltalk and try to explain our trip. And Awang’s family spoke some English, too. So with those two languages and of course body language we had a fun evening getting to know each other.


The next day turned out to be a crazy one! We had planned on cycling towards Kuching and staying somewhere in between. But when we started looking for places to stay there was just absolutely nothing around or later nothing in our price range. Interestingly a lot of places which you could rent for a few hours though. Buut that’s just not enough rest for a cyclist ;).

So we kept on pedalling and eventually it got dark and we still cycled some more. At some point we decided to just go all the way to Kuching. At least we would find a hostel there and get some proper rest tomorrow. So we kept on cycling, looked up a place online and got there, very much exhausted. With 145km we had just cycled our longest distance in a day! The manager of the hostel we stayed was very impressed with our journey and gave us a dorm room all to ourselves.


We stayed there for two nights and then moved to Syakirah’s, a couchsurfer who generously left us her place as she went away for the weekend. It was awesome to have a flat to ourselves for a while! So for a few days we didn’t do much.


My body needed rest and food and being stationary for some time. Kuching is a nice city to get all that, too.


We wandered around for a bit, had coffee, got invited by a few businessmen to join their Friday morning breakfast and met up with Simon, our warmshowers host from Miri once again.


All in all this stretch of cycling was beautiful and we met so many different people who made it even better. I love the diversity of it all: Sometimes we contact people beforehand (through warmshowers or couchsurfing) and sometimes we meet people on the road and sometimes someone invites us into his or her home without even knowing us. Each time when we leave we take another story with us, maybe a few words in a new language and each time we have made a new connection, a new friend. Ideas and preconceptions get replaced with faces and personal stories that I can relate to. This is how our world gets bigger and smaller at the same time. Bigger because of all the people and experiences. Smaller because all those people really aren’t that far away any more. I mean that in a cultural sense and in a physical one. Culturally we have a lot in common with all kinds of people we meet and physically – I mean, come on, you can go there on a bicycle! Why don’t you try it?




On friends and hiking in Sarawak’s National Parks

January 2016


After 5 months of cycle touring one of my dreams came true: Carina, a long time friend from back home was coming to visit! Very spontaneously she decided to spend her winter holiday in warmer climates and visit us. That was perfect for us as we’re not good long term planners anyway.

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With a bit of logistics involved we decided to spend a few days in Miri with our generous warmshowers host Simon who graciously let us stay in his flat as long as we wanted. There we would meet Carina and go off to hike several National Parks.


Torsten and I both love hiking but we haven’t done a lot of that since starting cycle touring. Quite often it involves a lot of planning and hassle (getting to the trail head, leaving the bikes and the luggage somewhere safe, having to engage a guide, paying a lot of fees for using the trail) and we already do a lot of planning for the cycling part of our journey. So this is why we were quite excited on the chance of actually going hiking again.


After a breakfast of roti we set off towards Lambir Hills National Park. Carina on the bus and we on our bicycles. We had quite the laugh when we managed to cycle into the entrance right as Carina’s bus arrived ;). We settled into our hostel accommodation and then walked towards several waterfalls. One actually had a lake where we could swim!


As it got dark we walked back “home”, cooked dinner and fought a battle against a lot of mosquitoes.


In the next morning Torsten and I hopped on our bicycles once more to cycle the 70k to Niah National Park. When we started it was raining lightly and it continued like that for while. It was the best weather to cycle in a long time and the 70k ride passed quickly. Carina hailed a bus in the meantime and relaxed a bit until we got there. Once again we secured a hostel room and I cannot recommend the accommodation in Sarawak’s National Parks enough! Simple, clean and affordable – what more do you want for a hiking adventure? We had thought about camping before but as Carina didn’t have a tent and it was hot and humid as always we preferred the hostel.


In the afternoon we walked along a perfectly comfortable board walk to the Niah Caves. I wasn’t sure if I would manage a long hike after already having cycled quite a bit in the morning but the trail was really easy. We spotted some colourful centipedes…


… and were blown away by the magnitude of the caves:


My camera is not good enough to take pictures in the dark, so you just have to visit yourself! There are a lot of birds flying around all the time and you see  many constructions and scaffolding for bird nest collectors.


The walk back was a quick one and after that we joined a group from Singapore for a Chinese dinner in Niah. Very delicious!


Previously we had planned to go to the next National Park in the morning but as we talked a bit we came to the conclusion that staying for one more day was good as well. Our accommodation was really beautiful and I already felt that we were going too fast and trying to do to much. So we decided to stay a bit longer. That meant that we would try and go up Bukit Kasut the next day.


And oh, what a hike it was! At first it started out all flat and we were wondering when the climb would begin.


And when it did it really went up up up! The steep slopes in the humid jungle let the sweat drop from our every pores and we took a lot of breaks to drink huge amounts of water.


But it was a lot of fun and the views were absolutely fascinating. Especially given that the elevation was only about 300m high.


After that we somehow got a boat over the river and had a late lunch in Niah. We did some shopping and hitchhiked back to the National Park. Dinner was an amazing set of about 5 home made dishes and we almost finished it all.


The next morning brought a first: Torsten and I would split up to get to Similajau National Park. I wanted to spend the time with Carina and we would therefore try and hitchhike with my bicycle in tow. Torsten would cycle the distance of 110k in the meantime. So he left early in the morning while Carina and I enjoyed a relaxed breakfast and had time to talk and reconnect.


About two hours later we arrived in Similajau National Park, having successfully found two lifts. Due to my bicycle and the two of us it had to be a pick up truck with 5 seats or we would have had to split up. But it was easy enough and our second lift actually drove about 100k out of his way just because he wanted to make sure to get us to the park. We assured him repeatedly that we would be fine but he wouldn’t have any of it. What an amazing guy!


Similajau National Park lies on the beach and so we spent the next two days relaxing at the beach and hiking alongside it. p1150915

We didn’t see any crocodiles (much to my disappointment) but found other fascinating wildlife:


We marvelled at the intensely coloured rivers…


…and had beautiful sunsets.


And then – much too soon – it was time to say good bye again. Carina, thank you so much for visiting us! It was absolutely awesome to share our life with you, to reconnect and to get to know the diversity of Borneo together.



On making friends, train rides and a fabulous christmas celebration

December 2015

Sometimes everything just falls into place. You might have had a hard time before or even for the briefest of times thought about quitting but then something happens that makes everything perfect. In my case I get that feeling almost exclusively when I meet people. The beauty and sadness of travelling as we do  is that we know that we only have a few days with mostly everyone. So meeting someone new and becoming friends can happen very quickly and intensely. This is a story on making friends and absolutely loving it!


When we were in Keningau, Torsten’s achilles tendon hurt even during the 500m walk to our breakfast place. So we called our warmshowers host in Tenom to ask her about hospital options or any other ideas. Barbara generously offered to pick us up and after some consideration we accepted. We could have cycled but most likely it would have made matters worse. She arrived about an hour later and we drove over many more hills to Tenom. The small town nestled in the mountains became our cosy home for the next week. Barbara’s house was a haven to recover from the exhausting ride and my first two days were spent with doing a lot of nothing except for reading and eating. It was glorious.


During the following week we took turns cooking wonderful and diverse meals and satisfied our hunger for cheese and all kinds of food we hadn’t had in a long time. I’m talking quiche, curry and muffins and feta salad here. I can’t begin to describe how happy I was! It’s quite interesting how I get homesick for food sometimes…

p1150197 We also did a bit of bicycle maintenance. As my cassette was quite worn for some time now I exchanged that and finally put our cassette tool and chain whip to use.


It was actually really easy to do that! Over time I’m gaining a lot of confidence to do bicycle related stuff on my own or with a little help from Torsten. I like that most things are relatively easy – not like a car with complicated electronics and such.

As Barbara was busy setting up her new language school in Tenom we helped with painting one of the classrooms. I really enjoyed doing something with my hands for once and it was nice to see the change on the walls right away.


Apart from that we didn’t do a lot. We panic visited the botanical garden on our last day which was quite beautiful.


But the most important thing for me was the feeling of being at home somewhere. I like travelling and all the experiences it brings but I also miss spending time with friends and family a lot. In Barbara we found a very good friend and after a few days it felt like we had known each other for a very long time. We felt entirely comfortable there, sometimes spending time together talking, sometimes reading or working a bit, sometimes having coffee or a beer and watching TV. It was a relaxing holiday with the best company we could have wished for.


When it was time to leave an intense feeling of sadness overcame me and stayed with me for a while. Sometimes the part where we leave people and places behind is really hard. Then again this wasn’t going to be the last time to see Barbara! As Christmas was coming up she invited us to spend it with her and a friend at the beach and we gladly accepted. I was happy about the prospect of being with friends during the time of year where I would miss my family a lot.


So we took the fabulous rickety train out of Tenom towards Kota Kinabalu and enjoyed the hell out of it.

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The train has open wagons and slowly meanders through a river valley lined by small villages.

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It is a truly awesome experience!


After that we spent a few days in Kota Kinabalu. We met up with John, a warmshowers host and he introduced us to his friend Alex who’s sister would host us for a few days. Confused? So where we at first but it actually was a lot of fun. Henny and her family invited us into their home, gave us yummy food and let us try their home made ice cream! From that moment on I was won over… 😉


Alex invited us to a cycling city tour on the next day which was awesome as we didn’t have to navigate for once.


He also showed us a cheap bicycle store where I exchanged my chain rings.


On Christmas day we left the city and cycled a short 20k to the beach.


We were welcomed with a Christmas cookie buffet, coffee and mango juice. With the taste of home in my mouth and the beach right in front of me it was the perfect combination to celebrate Christmas on our tour.


We then met Barbara and her friend Louise and had loads of fun and more good food and drinks. It was heaven on earth!

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So sometimes everything just falls into place. You meet someone and get along instantly and all the hard times of cycling uphill in the jungle are forgotten. Thanks heaps, Barbara, that was all (and a lot more) that we needed!

p1150464(As we had the chance we actually surprise visited her once more a few days later. We rarely get to just pop by someone’s house with our mode of travelling. So we jumped on the chance of using the train one more time and I loved the look on Barbara’s face when she saw us sitting in her driveway!)


Into the jungle: Hills, Plantations and an elephant

December 2015

Finally, after almost two weeks and a course of antibiotics I started to feel better. Then of course Torsten felt sick for a couple of days but in the end we did manage to leave Tawau at some point. It was nice taking it slow for a while and I enjoyed getting to know the town. A few times we’ve been invited for food or drinks just out of the blue but overall people were a bit more reserved (while still very friendly) than over the border in Indonesia. It was relaxing not to be in the centre of attention all the time. But now we both felt antsy to get going.

We had decided to go inland once more to avoid the busier and more touristy coastal road. And thus the Kalabakan road awaited us and would lead us over many a hills and show us what cycling in the jungle is really like. There would be some towns in the beginning but then a  rather empty stretch of more than 100k. We didn’t have anything like that since Australia! On the first day we took it slow as Torsten was still recovering and cycled a mere 30k to Tawau Hills National Park. A lot of the National Parks in Borneo, Malaysia, offer accommodation and camping space, so we planned on hiking a little bit and camping for the night.


When we first got there we were joined by about 200 locals enjoying the picnic area for their Sunday picnic. But as soon as we started hiking it thinned out quickly. We discovered mosses and ferns and huge ants…



We got surprised by a heavy rainstorm and were soaked in the matter of a few minutes. For the first time in weeks we actually felt a bit cold and warmed up in these warm springs:

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And then it was just s short hike back to our camp site in a soccer field:



The next morning marked the first of many to come where we actually managed to start cycling with the first light. We had planned on doing that for a long time as it kept getting hotter. Now in Borneo the humidity was also a major factor which finally made us getting up earlier. And oh, cycling in the morning hours was pure bliss! Climbing hills was easy and I loved the breeze of cool air while coasting downhill.


We were in for some wildlife surprises today: It started with a beautiful moth on the toilet building of our camp site…


…and right after this sign…


…Torsten actually spotted an elephant in a plantation! I’ve read that they move into the palm oil plantations as their natural forest habitat gets smaller and smaller with all the logging. Still, it was pretty amazing seeing one in the “wild” without a zoo or anything. Over a few minutes we had a cloud of about 20 locals around us who stopped their cars to see what we were looking at. So I guess elephant sightings are not that common here!


For the rest of the day we had beautiful views over hilly plantation land accompanied by comfortable roads.

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The cycling got a bit more challenging though. While we enjoyed that breeze in the morning hours there was absolutely no wind later. Only the scorching sun and high humidity. So this is when we really got to know the most important feature of the Kalabakan Road: Apart from one 20k stretch some time in the end it was just never flat. And by that I really mean n e v e r. It was Up and Down or Up Up Down or Up Up Up Up Down Down Up Down Up Up. You get the picture.


During noon we found a little pagoda and I took a long nap. The heat exhausts my body in a very special way.


After that we cycled on, wondered about crass signs in palm oil plantations and finally found a place to camp at the Rest House in Kalabakan. It was a long day.


Nevertheless we got up early the next day and cycled on. The morning hours were beautiful again and the morning sun spread a warm light around us.


Today we left the plantations and finally cycled through forest. There was more shade on the road which felt great. Also we noticed a big difference sound wise. There seems to be a lot more insect life in the forest. Also a LOT of monkeys but they are usually too far away to catch with my little camera.


When it got hot we found a stream which made a perfect picnic place. And it was even deep enough to swim in and thus marked about the only time of day when I felt entirely comfortable.


After that we basically cycled up and down hills in the jungle. The ‘jungle’ triggers these wild and exotic images and yes, that may partly be true. The forest around us was a 100 shades of green, lush and overgrown. It was just beautiful. Often we would hear a swooshing sound and then see a monkey flying through the trees. We listened to birds in the distance and the loud singing of cicadas. Of course the forest is so dense that you wouldn’t see an elephant 5 metres away from you as there is too much green in the way. So our elephant spotting yesterday was quite lucky indeed.

After Kalabakan we barely encountered any traffic except for the palm oil and logging trucks with the very friendly drivers. That was fortunate as the gradients kept getting steeper today and we had a lot of 10+% ones. So we could mostly make use of the whole road and cycle up in switchbacks. It was still over the top exhausting. The uphills were long and steep and I usually had to stop a few times to rest and give my body a break. Hopefully there would be a patch of shade to bring my body temperature down a bit but if not I would just stand in the scorching sun and try to catch my breath.


Keeping the spirit high under these conditions was quite the task. But then we were once again rewarded in the highest possible way: When we had researched the road we found an Organic Farm in the middle of nowhere and thought we would just ask to camp there. And that’s what we did. The manager was very friendly and even offered us a room to stay in.


We cooked some dinner and couldn’t have been happier about having a place to stay when the heaviest rain started 10 minutes after we arrived. We talked away the evening with Tony, the manager, found out more about the farm and were then invited to stay another day.


In exchange for some help we got rice and fresh organic vegetables and thus had our first lettuce-cucumber salad in months! It’s absolutely not that I don’t like local food, but sometimes a little taste from home goes a long way.



We climbed up a fantastic tree house about 20 metres high and marvelled about the built in toilet and the fantastic views over the farm from up there.



We helped getting rid of weeds for a few hours and I was absolutely humbled by the hard work and the people doing it every day.


Once again I know deep down that all the exhausting cycling is worth it when we discover places like these.

Oh and look who said hi! A bit scary…


On the next day we had about 90k to cycle until we would get to a small town with hopefully a place to camp. We got up early, had breakfast and cycled off. and cycled through the muddy drive (from all that heavy rain) up to the main road  and almost instantly got stuck. The 500m to the main road took us about 15 minutes and then we needed about 30 minutes to get all the mud off the tyres and brakes. And there we were, once again drenched in sweat.


So after that slow start we finally cycled off when it already got hot.



With the never ending sun and many steep hills we got to Sapulut after about 8 hours later. With my body shaking from exhaustion the food in the restaurant never tasted so good and the coffees were amazing. We sat there for about an hour and relaxed before we got on to find a place to sleep. Being as tired as I was, I just wanted to find a bit of grass ANYWHERE and crash. Preferably with a bit of water around to wash. So we asked around but weren’t really that successful. Then one of the locals suggested we try asking at the nearby church.


We asked how nearby exactly and he said just down the road, maybe about 10 minutes with the bicycle. Do you know about that thing how never to trust motorists when it comes to distances and tiny things like elevation? Yep, that’s a thing.


Long story short, the very helpful local showed us the way on his scooter and soon we turned away from the main road, cycled down all the way to the river valley on a gravel road (all of which we would have to cycle up again tomorrow).


And that’s when I completely lost it. Somewhere in my mind I was aware of the fact that the guy was being nice and going out of his way to help us. But I was so utterly exhausted that I didn’t care about that at all any more. As we kept going downhill and then over a few more hills along the bumpy road I started to cry and curse and simply wanted to quit right there and then. When some dogs started to chase after me I rethought that option but overall it wasn’t my finest hour.


When we finally got to the church (me after pushing up a few hills) the nicest family was – of course – waiting for us and welcomed us into their home. It was incredible. They must have noticed my lack of composure but it didn’t matter. They were so absolutely kind, warm and welcoming, showed us to a room, to the kitchen and the bathrooms. We talked a little bit, made plans for breakfast and then they left us to relax. When the rain started and thunder growled in the distance I slowly started to regain my composure and thought to myself that this couldn’t have been more perfect. Somehow it always turns out well in the end.



The next two days were slow ones. Before leaving we had a beautiful breakfast with the family, got to know each other a little and in the end I couldn’t thank them enough. As they were going to drive the road up to the market anyway they took our luggage to the main road. That meant that cycling uphill was fun and didn’t take long at all. We looked around at the market, got a few snacks and said good-bye.


Over the next two days we didn’t cycle as much, had longer breaks and I found it increasingly hard to keep up the motivation.


There was one 20k flat stretch but apart from that another hill always came up and I knew that it was time for rest.


In addition to that Torsten’s achilles tendon started to hurt which is why we contacted our warmshowers host in Tenom. We planned on cycling the last 40k to Tenom very slowly or hitching a lift but when she offered to come get us in her pickup truck. And when I saw all the remaining hills we still would have had to cover I didn’t mind one bit.


So cycling the Kalabakan road was again a compilation of the most diverse things and feelings: Bliss in the morning, beautiful nature, friendly and helpful people but also relentless heat and humidity, steep gradients and an overall feeling of exhaustion. What stays is once more that someone will always be there when you need it the most. And for that I am so so grateful.